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Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group

One Two Three

A Novel

Laurie Frankel

Henry Holt and Co.



My first memory is of the three of us, still inside, impatient to be born. We were waiting, like at the top of those water slides you see at amusement parks on TV, slippery wet and sliding all over one another to see who got to go first, shivering, hysterical, mostly with laughing but a little with fear. The winner—me!—streamed away from the other two, excited to slide and smug because I got to be first but also a little scared to leave them and a little left out because of the time they’d get to spend alone together until it was their turn too. Not that I’ve ever been on a water slide.

School doesn’t start until tomorrow, and already I’m behind. Mrs. Shriver emailed us the prompt a month ago. “History and memory are unreliable narrators, especially in Bourne. Therefore, please write a 2-to-3-page essay on your earliest memory and its relation to what’s true.” You think I couldn’t possibly remember being born—that its “relation to what’s true” is something like third cousin twice removed—but maybe the reason most people don’t remember is because they were alone in there. We weren’t alone. We never were. Before we were our mother’s or ourselves, we were one another’s.

Mama was waiting outside, of course, so she can’t say for sure either. Most mothers of triplets don’t even try to give birth naturally. Most aren’t even allowed to try. But our mother is not like most mothers.

She remembers hours of screaming and pushing and pain, and she was alone then, after him, but before us. While she waited, she made a plan to give us all M names with escalating syllables so she would be able to keep us straight. She named me Mab—queen of the fairies, deliverer of dreams—baby number one.

Two came kicking and screaming a quarter hour later and needed two syllables. Mama must have been tired because she’d lost track of what day it was—evening had turned to night had turned to morning by then—and when they told her it was early Monday already, she named the baby that.

And then three came too slowly, no matter how our mother pushed. Typical, though none of us knew that at the time. Eventually, they had to go in and get her, but she got the good name, the normal one. Mirabel. It sounds like miracle.

It turned out we didn’t need such an elaborate system, though. No one has to count syllables to tell us apart.

When we were very little, Mirabel called us with her fingers. One for me, two for Monday, three taps on her armrest or right above her heart when she was talking about herself. Monday and I used these nicknames too after a while, since she and Mirabel can’t go by something shorter without invalidating the entire point, so that’s our triplet shorthand. One for me, Two for one, Three for the other.

Mrs. Shriver won’t believe the other part, though, that I remember being in utero. She’ll say, “I asked for an essay, Mab, not a short story.” But if memory’s so unreliable, who is she to say? If memory’s so unreliable, what’s the point of even asking the question?

Except I know the answer to that one. It’s important for us to exercise our memories in Bourne, to stretch and strengthen them—like brain yoga or mind aerobics—because one of the sad things that happens when almost everyone dies is there aren’t enough people left who remember why.

Copyright © 2021 by Laurie Frankel